Confronting the unspoken in black women’s sexuality in contemporary South Africa by Memory Mphaphuli

Within the context of black families, candid talks about women’s sexuality continue to be restricted, with the exception of pithy exhortations that aim to scare young women from experimenting sexually. Many other aspects of sexuality are supressed through various discursive strategies. By drawing upon the narratives of the lived experiences of two generational cohorts of black women (between the ages of 20-30 and 40-62), this study identified some of the discourses that black mothers and their daughters use to shape their understanding of sexuality in contemporary South Africa. Findings show that silence and restrictions characterise the way knowledge about sexuality is communicated to women in different age groups. Importantly, insights from these black women show that female sexuality continues to be heavily influenced by traditional ideas about respect, marriage, safe sex and diseases. Collectively, the narratives revealed that mothers and their daughters simply do not have the words to encourage a positive expression of sexuality, that is, a language to talk affirmatively about sexuality. Young women especially end up holding evasive and ambivalent views about their sexuality, with a decreased sense of sexual self-awareness and agency.

Memory is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at Ghent University. She identifies herself as a feminist sociologist who is intrigued by different forms of social inequalities that are linked with gender and (hetero)sexuality specifically. She is most interested in studying how gender and sexuality intersect with other social phenomena such as race and class.